ROME, SEPT. 15, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Religion has a central and unique role in society and its development, according to the former prime minister of England.
Tony Blair, a convert to Catholicism, spoke with L’Osservatore Romano about his faith in an interview published in today’s Italian edition.
“My spiritual journey began when I started to go to Mass with my wife,” Blair said. “Then we decided to baptize our children in the Catholic faith. It was a journey that lasted 25 years, or perhaps more. In time, emotionally, intellectually and rationally it seemed to me that the Catholic home was the right one for me. When I left political office, and I no longer had all the context connected with being prime minister, it was something I really wanted to do.”
Blair added that religion has brought him closer to his wife.
“We did not meet because of religion, but it was very interesting to discover that my future wife was very active in the Catholic student organization and in other youth organizations,” he recalled. “For young people 23 or 24 years old, when we met, it was rather unusual to discover a shared interest in religion.”
Blair affirmed that in addition to his wife’s influence, an experience with Pope John Paul II helped him move toward Catholicism. He attended a Mass celebrated by the Holy Father in his private chapel.
“It is still a very vivid memory, an episode that impressed me very much,” Blair recounted. “Certainly, it is quite probable that, in any event, I would have come to [my] conversion but, undoubtedly, it was an important stage that ultimately reinforced my decision.
“One of the things that has most attracted me to the Catholic Church is her universal nature. If you are a Catholic, you can go anywhere in the world and attend Mass. I was at Mass in Kigali, Beijing, Singapore … The fact that wherever you are, you are in communion with others is really formidable. The universal Church herself is an important model of a global institution.”
The British politician is now dedicated to promoting the Tony Blair Faith Foundation for interreligious dialogue, which is especially active in Africa and the Middle East.
As to whether being a Catholic is an advantage in his activity in the Middle East, Blair responded: “Honestly, I’ve never considered it a problem. Never. On the contrary, I often think that, in the modern world, the fact of being a person of faith enhances one’s capacity to relate to persons of other creeds. It’s true, sometimes the opposite happens — one meets with strong opposition. However, given that today, factors of secularization subject faith to a harsh and aggressive attack, in the end what happens is that people of different creeds sometimes become allies.”
Blair praised Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” saying it should be “read and re-read.”
He particularly highlighted the Pope’s affirmation that “the Christian religion and other religions can make their contribution to development only if God finds a place in the public sphere, with specific reference to the cultural, social, economic and especially the political dimension.”
“Personally, I share completely what the Pope writes in the encyclical,” Blair added.
Acknowledging that many people want to keep religion out of the public square, the former prime minister affirmed, “To hold, as I hold, that religion has an important role, does not mean that debates and confrontations will end. On the contrary, it will continue on many subjects in regard to which, probably, the Church will be on one side and political leaders on the other.
“However, I don’t think this is the main point: The point is that faith has every right to enter in this space and to speak. It must not be silent.
“The voice of faith must not be absent from the public debate.”
Blair went on to refer to Benedict XVI’s efforts to promote following God’s truth.
“Of course,” he said, “at times this can come into conflict with the political world, and I experienced this as a political leader. Nevertheless, it is very important that the religious aspect be there: It is no accident that the Pope writes that a humanism without God is inhuman. And I believe that by this he understands that human action and human reason are always limited if they are not imbued by faith. At times, they can even be dangerous.”
To the affirmation that it will be very difficult to implement the policy delineated in the Pope’s encyclical, Blair responded: “People often misunderstand politics. Politics is the interaction between idealism and realism: In general, it isn’t the triumph of one over the other.”
“When in 2005, we decided to put Africa’s poverty at the center of the G-8 in Gleneagles, this had been strongly supported by the Catholic Church and by John Paul II. And it was crucial. Difficult political knots are created when one must decide how much money will be given, if more should be done and if it can be done — knots that can also lead to strong confrontations.
“However, the fact that there is talk of it, and that the position is strongly supported by the Church, can in fact help the politician to make the right choice. It’s true, it doesn’t eliminate the problem, but it helps.
“When I told the [British] that we had to substantially increase our aid to Africa, I was much helped by the fact that the Church said publicly that it was the right decision, that it was something morally good.”
Finally, L’Osservatore Romano spoke with Blair about his personal experience as a father. He said it is a role that has to be taken “with responsibility and without arrogance.”
“No matter how good or intelligent I thought I was, I always found that to be a father was something very difficult. And I still think so,” he reflected.
Blair affirmed that fathers are “crucial” figures in the family, “essential” for children’s growth and formation.
And he contended that “in certain aspects, the idea of family is being recovered.”
“Also in this area I believe that religious communities and the Church have a role to play,” Blair said. “It’s true, families have their problems, they disintegrate — something that I fear will continue to happen. However, I have always thought that the Church’s indications in the matter of the family were useful.
“Lets be clear: to make a marriage work calls for effort and, I believe, paternity also calls for it. But I really think that, among the great changes that are taking place, also in the social realm, it is necessary to rediscover that paternity is a responsibility and a necessity.”